15 July 2017

Rwanda: Smooth Start in Race for Presidency

Photo: Faustin Niyigena/New Times
Thousands of RPF members arrive at Nyanza district site waiting for their candidate Paul Kagame.

Election campaigns kicked off across the country yesterday with the three candidates in this year's presidential race addressing different rallies to woo voters.

Incumbent President Paul Kagame of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) launched his campaign in the Southern Province's district of Ruhango, before addressing another rally in Nyanza.

The Democratic Green Party candidate, Frank Habineza, was in Muganza Sector, Rusizi District, while Philippe Mpayimana, an independent, addressed rallies in Nyamata and Gashora sectors in Bugesera District.

On Kagame's way, thousands of supporters lined the streets from the city centre to the busy commercial centre of Nyabugogo, hoping tocatch a glimpse of their favourite candidate.

The mood turned celebratory and cheers and ululations filled the streets as his convoy snaked through the streets to make his way to the area where he was born some 59 years ago.

Marie-Jose Mukarwego was vending maize alongside another three young mothers.

When the convoy got closer, the crowd surged forward and for a minute, she forgot all about her basket, gleefully waving and jumping up and down.

She confessed she is a strong supporter of President Kagame and wanted to see him use his next term to lift more people out of poverty.

"I really like him and I will vote for him because I am hoping that he can help us put this hide-and-seek that we play with security personnel to an end. My friends already have free stalls in the market. I am on the waiting list. I want to start a business but I don't have any capital. He can hopefully change that," she said.

Away from Nyabugogo, the mood was of mixed reactions. Downtown Kigali was almost deserted and only a few cars and motorcycles were visible compared to the traffic jam that has lately become the norm at peak hours.

However, business seemed to be going on as usual. Contrary to a large number of traffic police personnel that had filled the streets earlier in the day, there was no sign of any of them as we moved through the city centre, Nyabugogo and Remera.

Patrick Murundi, a parking guide near the Union Trade Centre (UTC), in the Central Business District, said that many city dwellers could have followed their candidates on their campaign trail.

"It was a busy morning on the streets but it all of a sudden changed. Normally, Fridays here are too busy but it feels like a Sunday," he said.

RPF flags and other campaign materials and party colours dominated many public spaces including all the major roundabouts around Kigali.

Also, several cars with RPF stickers could be seen.

Away from the city centre, it was slightly colourful day on the streets of Remera.

At the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) junction, three large pots colorfully branded with RPF-Inkotanyi colors are connected by the party's flag, forming a triangle in the middle of the road creating a much needed roundabout.

Day One

In a phone interview with Saturday Times, Habineza cheerfully said that his first day had been a success.

"It was a huge success. The turnout was good and we expect it to be even better tomorrow [today]. The Sector, District and Police authorities were all present and even when some people tried to discourage our supporters from coming for the rally, they stepped in and intervened. Overall, everything went well," he said.

Today, Habineza heads to Nyamasheke District, Kagame goes to Nyaruguru and Gisagara, while Mpayimana will be campaigning in Muhanga and Nyanza districts.

The Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission, Charles Munyaneza, told Saturday Times that generally reports from the field from NEC representatives were positive.

"Residents showed up and, overall, the process was peaceful. Of course, at the beginning there are some small negligible hiccups like time keeping and we are hoping that tomorrow [today] and other days that follow will be much better," he said.

In a Tweet, the Ministry of Local Government said yesterday's presidential campaigns kicked off across the country smoothly.

"We wish Rwandans peaceful campaigns and smooth preparations for elections. All the rallies today were peaceful," It said.

Theos Badege, the Police Spokesman, also said it was a perfect day in terms of security.

"Whether it was at the campaign venue or road safety, everything went well especially because of the cooperation between different stakeholders such as local authorities.

"People complied with our call. We encourage them to keep the tranquil and to respect the law and to make sure that vehicles are not overloaded, have insurance, and maintain the required speed on the roads."

- Marie-Jose Mukarwego

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